For the November store spotlight, we’re going to the famous Thanksgiving state, Massachusetts, home of TJ Collectibles. Owner Tom Shea is one of New England’s most prominent tournament organizers, and we’re glad he took the time to talk with us about the regional Magic scene, the joys and challenges of organizing, and one remarkably clever tip for finding just the right venue.
Shea is no stranger to running high-profile Magic tournaments. The first TJ Collectibles tournaments took place in 1997, and by 2001 Shea was collaborating with Rob Dougherty and Your Move Games to host his first Grand Prix in nearby Boston. Several more Grand Prix team-ups followed before his first solo Grand Prix, Providence in 2011, the first of five so far for an organizer who runs his store and his events by the motto “Fair, Fast and Fun.”
“Tournament organizers are responsible for all aspects of an event,” said Shea. “We choose the venue, hire the event staff, choose the judges, and pack all the equipment. It’s my favorite part of my business.”
When asked if New England’s competitive Magic scene differed from lower Northeastern states like New York and New Jersey, Shea joked, “There are more Yankee fans than Red Sox fans down there.” More seriously, he complimented the other side of the rivalry, noting “the playerbase in the Northeast is passionate and knowledgeable.”
TJ Collectibles got its start before Magic went on sale, opening in 1992 as a baseball card shop in the town of Milford. “Our original storefront was a little over 400 square feet,” said Shea. “Today our facility is over 6000 square feet and we need more room!” For major events like StarCityGames.com Premier IQs – Shea will hold two in November alone – he rents an offsite venue.
Shea credits his relentless promotion, including advertisements in his dealer booth and social media such as his store’s Facebook page, with making attendance at his offsite events grow. Venue choice matters too. “Look for venues that other organizers have used,” said Shea. “Network with venues. Be respectful and direct on what your budget is for your event.” If that doesn’t work? “Ask the salesperson where they would look.” It’s a small, simple step that’s given Shea great results.
Shea’s ultimate offsite venue, and one of his favorites, is PAX East, where he’s the official organizer for Magic tournaments. “PAX East is a super cool show that everyone wants to go to,” said Shea, adding, “The vibe at PAX is so good. Everyone is really nice to one another.”
PAX East poses unique challenges, said Shea. “PAX is a difficult show to run as everything has to go through channels. Onsite is especially difficult. We are used to simply going to the venue to fix small issues, which at PAX can’t be done. We have to go to our decorator who then goes to PAX who then goes to the venue.”
On the other hand, “The best thing about PAX for our staff is teaching new players how to play Magic. That, coupled with being entrusted by Wizards to run their events at such a high-profile place, is something that we take very seriously.”
It’s clear that Shea treasures the experiences of players. “Friday is my favorite day of the week as FNM is the backbone of every store,” he said. “We ran the Kaijudo Winter Champs event a few weeks ago. The Kaijudo playerbase reminded me why we run events, which is to help players enjoy their favorite game.”